Matt Bush, FISM News
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said he hopes there will be an agreement for a prisoner exchange including WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, otherwise known as the “Merchant of Death.”
“I hope that the prospect is not just preserved, it is strengthening, and the moment will come when we will get a concrete agreement from the perspective,” Ryabkov said. “The Americans are showing some external activity. We are working professionally through a special channel designed for this. Viktor Bout is among those who are being discussed, and we certainly count on a positive result.”
The U.S. State Department, however, is not as optimistic as Ryabkov, noting that Russia has yet to act in good faith in the negotiations. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said, “Ultimately here, actions speak louder than words. The Russian government’s failure to seriously negotiate on these issues in the established channels. or any other channel for that matter, runs counter to its public statements.”
Griner, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted of illegal drug possession in August after carrying cannabis oil vapes in her luggage as she tried to enter Russia. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to the charges, and her sentence was upheld on appeal on Tuesday.
Whelan, on the other hand, was arrested in 2018 on the charge of espionage and was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. His trial was denounced by America and most of the rest of the world as unfair, and Whelan has maintained his innocence since his arrest.
Both Griner and Whelan are serving sentences that many people think are unfair after going through legal battles where the decks were stacked against them. The same cannot be said for the Russian Viktor Bout.
Bout, the former Russian Air Force officer, was extradited from Thailand to the U.S. in 2010. He is one of the most infamous arms dealers in the world, and the things that he has done have been so evil that a Hollywood film was made about him that led to his nickname, the Merchant of Death.
As opposed to the unsubstantiated charge of espionage or the trumped up charges of carrying a controlled substance on a plane, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being charged with “conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. officials.” Bout was accused of delivering anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization.
It is not clear why Russia is pushing for Bout’s release, though many suspect he was involved in and has knowledge of Russian intelligence. The Biden administration, on the other hand, is pushing for the release of two famous and well-known Americans who were imprisoned for either false or trumped-up charges.
This story gained some traction recently because Griner was transferred to IK-2 women’s penal colony in the remote village of Yavas in Mordovia. In July, the U.S. made what Anthony Blinken called a “substantial proposal” to get Griner and Whelan released, but for now the stalemate continues.